WASHINGTON -- The time limit for a tribal government to file a settlement
claim to receive trust money owed it by the federal government has been
extended for one year.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., attempted to
have the deadline for filing a claim extended for six years; but Congress
sent a one-year extension to the president, who signed it on Dec. 30, 2005.
Tribes have until Dec. 31, 2006 to place their claims for payment of trust
funds owed them before the statute of limitations runs out again. The
funds, which are not government funds, are monies owed the tribes for
lease, royalty, land sale and taken-land payments which were not properly
paid because of alleged mismanagement by the Department of Interior over
the past 100 years.
It is estimated that billions of dollars are involved, and most all
federally recognized tribes -- and some that are not federally recognized
-- may not have been paid the large sums of money owed them.
Legal precedence in Osage Nation v. United States opened the doors for all
tribes to file settlement claims against the federal government to receive
money rightfully due the tribes and reservations.
A 1996 reconciliation of trust accounts by the Arthur Andersen accounting
firm found gross mismanagement on the part of the federal government. In
simple terms, the federal government acted as property manager for the
tribes and in many cases failed to collect fair market value for land
sales, leases or sales of timber, coal, gas or other minerals. The
government also failed to properly invest the monies, and interest is owed
to many of the tribes as well.
Most, if not all, reservations have a claim that can be filed, but it must
be filed within the next year.
"Some tribes may have been owed money in the 1930s but never collected the
money; or it took 30 years to receive, but they are now owed the interest,"
said legal consultant Gary Frischer.
"There are all types of equations; it depends on the tribes. There are a
lot of non-federally recognized tribes that have some very good claims.
They may have been removed and not paid for their original lands," Frischer
Many of the tribes that have claims are large, land-based tribes, but the
claims aren't exclusive for them.
Some tribes are reluctant to file claims because of potential upfront
expenses. According to Frischer, publicity of this issue has brought many
law firms who handle class-action suits forward who are willing to take the
cases on contingency. Tribes should check with their attorneys.
Just before the statute of limitations ended on Dec. 31, 2005, five more
tribes filed claims. That brought the total to 15, with three claims
previously settled. After the deadline, more tribes filed claims.
Frischer said that 90 percent of the tribes have not yet filed claims --
and they need to do something quickly.
He added that many tribes are under the illusion that they have received
everything due them. If a tribe was allocated $1 million in 1930 and it
should have been $2 million based on fair market value, they were
underpaid. And if they received the money late, interest may be owed.
Congress required Interior in 1993 to pay interest on trust funds held for
tribes. In 1994 the trust reform act was amended and the office of special
trustee created. Later, Arthur Andersen found the federal government did
not comply with federal law that required reconciliation of the accounts.
As the dollar figure soars into the billions, it is possible that if the
government were to pay 100 percent of the claims the figure could reach
into the trillions, Frischer said. "It's unrealistic to think they will
look at that figure."
To receive more information on filing a claim, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.